Sometimes clients get confused between these different terms so I thought I’d write a post defining them to help you out. So it’s not sexy (like usual, hah!) but can be a good reference when sorting out what is what.
What do these terms mean and why does it matter to you?
Domain name – This is literally just a name, like ‘munterwestermann.com’. It’s nothing else! Without the other pieces, the name doesn’t do anything.
Web host / Web server – This is the computer that stores the files and configuration for your website. Even without a domain name, you can access these files. And sometimes you can even preview your website without the domain name.
Domain name registrar – This is the company where you bought the domain name. Typically, the registrar has records pointing the domain name at the web host and email server, and any other services connected with your domain name. When you type in a domain name, the information from the registrar tells your browser what web host to go to. Then your browser connects with the web host and shows you the website.
Website – This is where it all comes together. The domain has pointed at the web host and it shows you the web pages.
What doesn’t help any of this confusion is that a single company can provide the domain name, registration, and hosting. This makes it seamless for the customer, but it also confuses people into thinking that it’s all one thing when it isn’t.
Usually everything ticks along fine but what happens if you lose control over your domain name and then the web host changes something that breaks your site? This brings me to the reason I’m writing this particular post, this week. I have a client whose site is offline because the web host broke the connection with the domain name. Typically, this would be a quick fix but my client doesn’t have the credentials for the domain name registrar. And they no longer have access to the account email to do password recovery. So we’re not able to login and edit the domain name. As a result, their website has been down for a week while we try to regain access to the account.
The domain registrar takes this all very seriously – they don’t want people sneaking in and stealing domain names. They require government ID, a notarized letter, and other supporting documents to change the contact information on the account without the username and password. This is a long and painful process, particularly when the website is down!
Don’t let this happen to you! Make sure that you record your domain name credentials and retain access to the account email. It’s funny that the seemingly smallest part of your online identity, the name, affects so much. If your web host goes out of business or you have some other reason for changing, we can easily edit your domain name records to point elsewhere. But we need access to the domain account for that. If you want to switch your email hosting – maybe you want to use Exchange or Google Workspaces – then again, we need access to your domain name.
And that starts with maintaining access to your email, particularly if used for crucial accounts like your domain name.
And don’t use an email at your domain for the account email!! Why not? Because if you lose access to the domain, then you may lose access to the email. Better to use an address that is not connected to your domain – like Gmail.
Similarly, don’t use the email provided by your ISP (e.g. @rogers.com or @bell.net) because you can lose access to that email address when you move or change providers.
This all circles back to passwords and password managers. (You knew it would). If you have all your passwords (including your domain registrar password) in your password manager, then you can easily search for which accounts use an email address. Then when you change email address, you’ll know which accounts you need to update.
When I switched away from Rogers as my ISP, I had to give up my @rogers.com email address. Using my password manager, I was able to see all my accounts that used that email address and very easily switch them to my new personal Gmail account.
Does it all make sense now? If you’re a puzzled puppy, reach out, I’m always happy to translate tech speak into something understandable and actionable.
Photo credit: Chris Arthur-Collins on Unsplash